Published: 2011/03/17 07:24:06 AM
CAPE TOWN — The Petroleum Agency of SA (Pasa) will evaluate the applications to explore for shale gas in the Karoo impartially and with full account being taken of its potential environmental impact, chairman Jacinto Rocha said yesterday.
Mr Rocha dismissed suggestions by the Democratic Alliance (DA) that it had already displayed bias in favour of the project.
The allegations of bias will add fuel to the raging dispute over the applications by Royal Dutch Shell and Falcon Oil to explore for shale gas in the Karoo, strongly opposed by leading businessman Johann Rupert and other landowners in the area.
The applicants are in the process of producing draft environmental impact assessments, which they have to submit to Pasa next month .
The Karoo’s shale gas reserves have been conservatively estimated at 5-trillion cubic feet.
The allegations emerged from a presentation by Pasa to a joint sitting of Parliament’s energy and mining committees on its operations and on the issue of shale gas.
They were also based on the fact that Pasa had a dual and possibly contradictory role of both promoting oil and gas exploration and production as well as adjudicating on permit applications before making recommendations to Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu .
Pasa is not a statutory body. It was established under the Central Energy Fund Act and designated to perform its functions under the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act.
The DA’s spokesman on water and environmental affairs, Gareth Morgan, accused Pasa manager of frontier technology Jennifer Marot of showing bias in favour of the process of hydraulic fracturing (shattering the shale by pumping water into it at high pressure ).
He said that in her presentation to the committee on shale gas mining, she had played down some of the concerns of that opponents had expressed, namely contamination of ground water, road invasion and noise pollution.
Pasa, as the adjudicating body, should not have made any comments on fracking, he said.
Ms Marot argued that if high standards for the well-casing were maintained, it was unlikely groundwater would be contaminated by fracking, while desecration of a large surface area could be avoided by having multiple drilling from a single pad. However, a significant constraint would be access to sufficient quantities of water in the arid Karoo for the fracking process.
Mr Rocha said Pasa had no position for or against the exploration , though Ms Marot as an expert may have her own view.